Brand strategies exist to facilitate the creation and maintenance of brand image, brand identity and brand positioning. These strategies work towards maximising organisational efficiency and generating resources, and both are shared aims of the private and charity sector. Maintaining a charity’s brand, one of its most important assets, is of particular importance externally as it is a way of placing the brand into peoples’ everyday lives, making sure the organisation is seen as relevant, and continues to appeal to what can often be a broad range of stakeholders. It is only recently that the charity sector has begun to recognise the significant role its brand can play for their organisation internally. Managing a brand allows organisations to establish and align the internal structure and how they are engaging with employees, volunteers and trustees.
On a material level, brand management facilitates a recognisable visual identity (a logo), a consistent set of visual communications materials and on-brand awareness campaigns. On an immaterial level we see that distinct, cohesive branding establishes an organisation with a clear set of values, a unique personality and a mission. This is especially important for global brands that experience difficulties due to both visual and written language barriers. By forging a succinct identity, a charity is reducing the potential for brand confusion, as well as clarifying internal cohesion amongst employees, volunteers and trustees. Produced and maintained correctly, for the internal audience, a unified identity provides navigational assistance – a consistent reminder of their shared aims. This feeling of inclusion encourages employees to become powerful brand ambassadors for the organisation. It also helps to create and maintain clear brand communications internally and solidify the picture on external touchpoints. This unified voice helps establish a bond of trust with employees, stakeholders, beneficiaries and other interested parties resulting in the organisation having a respected and trusted brand image. From this stable platform the organisation can extend its brand reach, educate, lobby Government, win service contracts, form consortiums with similar organisations, benefit from mergers, establish long term relationships with private organisations, appeal to donors, attract new volunteers and gain higher profile endorsements.
Charity brand management is increasingly subject to the same level of targeting and segmentation that we have seen in existence within the private sector for a long time. This means that the right tone of voice and the right messaging is being used to communicate with a charity’s diverse stakeholder group. With the rise in government services being contracted and private and public donation being relied on more, stakeholders and interested parties want active demonstration of how funds are being spent. Additionally, charities are being requested to show the tangible effects that this funding is achieving by measuring results against clearly defined objectives. Being able to communicate these results with the appropriate tone is of great importance to a brand’s image. However, being forced to measure the impact of funding against social good, in the way you would in commercial organisations i.e. with the bottom line, is risky. In having to actively demonstrate the impact of an organisation the accuracy of statistics needs careful analysis to avoid any confusion when taken out of context. In the case of the Kick It Out campaign, its 2012 annual report details that reporting of incidents had increased from 2010 to 2011. The increase in the reported incidents of racially motivated abuse could be interpreted as a failing of the campaign. However, the increase is much more likely to do with the visibility of the campaign in the public domain following on from the summer 2012 press coverage and its clarification of the ways to report this type of incident.
As the financial problems of today’s economic climate continue, we are seeing charitable giving and individual donations continue to reduce. In 2009, charitable giving dropped for the first time in fifteen years (NCVO UK Civil Society Almanac, 2012). At the same time the increased demand for volunteers has been recognised by the Government, whose ‘Big Society’ initiative is encouraging citizens and businesses to support the civil society. The organisations that actively raise their public profile will therefore benefit from allowing the choice-making process to be easier. With the aim of raising the profile of their organisation, gaining enhanced political profile, increasing donations and volunteers, some charities use shock tactics in their campaigns and communication material. This use is, to an extent, particular to the non-profit sector and, although hazardous, is a tried and tested means of maximising return on investment. This can be especially valuable to charities campaigning for causes that aren’t perceived to be popular or a priority, such as sexual health, mental health or drug rehabilitation. Charities with lesser-known profiles have also used these tactics to their advantage, such as ‘Unwatchable’, a viral video made on behalf of Save The Congo in 2011, which received 20,000 views and petition signatures in just two weeks. Its impact was due to the explicit visualisation of the rapes of women in the Congo. The campaign was written about in The Guardian, featured on BBC Radio 4, and led to the organisation being invited by UK government policy makers to have discussions. However, while campaigns such as these are specifically designed to raise attention, they are also accused of taking advantage of the beneficiaries (Stride and Lee, 2007). Two charity advertising campaigns (Marie Stopes International’s 2010 advert promoting pregnancy advice and Barnardo’s domestic child abuse) even find themselves being in the Advertising Standards Agency top 10 most complained about adverts of all time. Yet we must offset the significance of this statistic with that of a YouGov poll 2010, which found that nearly 80% of the public felt it is justified for charities to use shock tactics in their advertising.
Controversy isn’t just restricted to advertising and messaging; certain charities use controversial publicity stunts and demonstrations to raise the profile of their campaign. In 2003, Fathers-4-Justice held a protest where ‘Spiderman’ chained himself to a crane over Tower Bridge in central London. As a result the campaign received enormous press coverage, but not all positive, as the stunt was seen by many as irresponsible. This was ultimately damaging to the credibility of the organisation and was seen to contradict the values they project, thus creating a barrier to the delivery of its message. In instances like this a charity has to weigh up the potential benefits against the risks to make sure that they are able to limit any potential damage done to their brand image, while maximising the publicity that a stunt like this creates. A brand image is created from consumers’ perceptions of the values that an organisation projects. So in employing strategies and tactics designed to shock, the risk is that a consumer may subconsciously devalue the brand as a result of a misalignment between the perceived exploitation, or shocking campaigns and the charity’s projected brand identity.
Additionally, brands have become a tool which consumers can use to project their own identity and form social bonds. This is indicative of the shift in cultural and social significance of the concept of ‘the brand’, and a form of co-creation between consumers and producers – an alliance where each uses the other to its own benefit. The theory of co-creation is mostly explored with focus on the private sector; where the exchange is between a consumer and producer. However, I want to explore this brand management theory within the non-profit sector to see how forms of co-creation can be used, and to what benefit.